Thursday, October 20, 2016

Megarry's Blackmoor Characters III - A Mystery

The mystery of the circle and squares.

Now here is a fun one.  You'll recall from the first post in this series (in point three) I mentioned two new stat which were added to the character sheets and placed near the character name.  These stats were unlabeled and distinguished from each other by having either a square or a circle drawn around the number.  Here's a close up of a couple:
 
It's hard to see in the pics I copied to the blog so here is a link where you can download better resolution jpegs.


So to reiterate, the "circle numbers" came first, at the time the Hercebeiner characters were created.  Then came the square numbers, and Megarry drew circles and squares around them to mark them as different.

What are they?

Before your mind goes racing to all the obvious D&D stuff, take note of the zeros, and keep in mind the ranges found on the 2 sheets; square numbers range from 0-4, whereas circle numbers range from 0-7.

My first thought was that they might perhaps represent levels.  Dave Arneson once said "Because the players in the original campaign could learn different skills and different abilities, virtually everybody who was a fighter also wanted to be able to throw magic.  And it seemed like everybody who was a magic-user also wanted to be able to fight.“  Dave Arneson, Mortality Radio interview, July 9th, 2004.   In FFC material, quite likely to be contemporary with Megarry's characters we read of an assistant to the Ran of Ah Foo who is "Level 7 Warrior and Magic". (1977:19)

However, when I presented the idea to Dave Megarry, he disagreed, "The only character that had some magic type ability was the Scholaress: she had the shape changing amulet and the vial of basilisk blood. I was not a magic user: my vision was more of Aragorn rather than Gandalf, if you get my meaning." Personal Communication, 2016

Mr. Megarry further explained that he knew what the squares were.  "The square numbers were the hit class / armor class of the characters. I am having a problem remembering what the round numbers meant. Arneson added something at the time or made us add the information at the time I did the Herk characters and I filled it in for my previous characters (for consistency, I guess:).  The Herk series is the three characters that were related to each other or part of the household in red.... The armor class dealt with what type of armor you had bought or acquired: no armor = 0; leather armor = 1; chainmail = 2; plate armor = 4. I think these are straight from the Chainmail combat system." Personal Communication, 2016

I suggested to Mr. Megarry that if it was from CHAINMAIL, then the numbers were probably no armor = 0; shield only = 1, leather armor = 2; chainmail = 3; plate armor = 4., and Dave Megarry thought that was probably it.

The puzzling thing about that is that it skips the "with shields" columns, so why use these numbers?  I mean, if you are just counting across on the Man to Man table "3" is leather and shield, not chain.  So it would seem to make more sense to just write "chain" or to number across all the column so as to avoid confusion.

I wondered if Mr. Megarry had gotten the circles and squares backwards, since circle numbers can be found as high as 7 (the Gester) which would be Plate armor, counting across.  Again, however Megarry corrected that notion, "The two characters, Earl's Jester and Hero Trany both have circle 7's and I know they did not have plate armor with shields!" Personal Communication, 2016

In fact, full plate seems to have been a rarity in Blackmoor.  I think it quite likely that the numbers in the squares do indeed refer to the Man to Man armor types in CHAINMAIL just as Megarry claims, but it is simply the case that none of Megarry's characters ever wore armor any more robust than type 4.  He said, "I was not much into shields as they used one arm in combat and was hard to carry. I liked bow and arrow weapons and did not use shields. I did like leather armor as it gave a minimal protection for a relatively cheap cost. The Scholaress did have chainmail as she had money..."  Personal Communication, 2016.  The Scholaress, by the way, has a square number of 4.  For reference here is the CM list, with numbers added:

0
no armor
1
Leather/Padded
2
Shield only
3
Leather + shield
4
Chainmail
5
Chainmail + shield
6
Plate
7
Plate + shield

Perhaps it is worth noting that this is also consistent with John Sniders remarks, "Armor .. I thought it was 1-8, my Boozero character started at 1 if I remember correctly, but then he was shall we say in his cups a tad much so Dave could have adjusted the system to account for this." Personal Communication 2009 

There's also this odd little note in the FFC, "ROBOTS - I roll one Six sided dice for Armor Class," (1977:74)

I also wondered if the circle and square numbers could both be armor class, like ascending vs descending, but the circle and square numbers do not correspond in any way that would allow them to be describing the same sets of armor, therefore, if they both represent a defense number of some kind, and the square numbers are a shorthand for CM armor types, it would seem that the only real option for the circle numbers would be helmets, or possibly shields.

Of course, there is no table in CHAINMAIL for shield types or helmet types - so if the numbers were intended to be a separate armor rating for either shields or helmets, Arneson would have to have created his own tables for them.  That seems a bit fiddly, and there is no evidence for such.  Also, when we look to the FFC, we find three kinds of helmets and 9 kinds of shields (three kinds of small, medium and large).  Since our number ranges in the circle and square figures are 0-4 and 0-7, helmets clearly don't fit the range.

Shields however remain a possibility for the 0-7 range of the circle numbers, but this again is problematic.  Yes, shields are already included on the Man to Man table, but it is conceivable that Arneson developed a shield rule like that found in the Dalluhn draft and in somewhat different form in the 3lbb booklets; namely that a magical shield would only "catch" a fraction (like 1/3rd) of the blows depending on the direction of the attack.  However, even this idea doesn't stand up well to scrutiny.  The numbers can't be a separate shield rating within the Man to Man method because the number combinations on the character sheet don't correspond in any meaningful way.  

Remember also that the circle numbers came first.  What sense does it make, for Arneson to have switched from a single "to hit" target number to determine a hit on a character, to a wholly unknown to hit table based on whether a character has a shield or not?

Well it doesn't.  About the only way it could make sense was if the circle numbers were a shield 2d6 saving throw number.  If a saving throw based on shields came first, then it might make some sense if armor were added in the manner Megarry suggested (no armor = 0; shield only = 1, leather armor = 2; chainmail = 3; plate armor = 4) because then the "with shield" column on the Man to Man table would be redundant.  Then again, type 1 "shield only" would seem to be redundant too.

There are two bits of circumstantial evidence that might support this; namely there is an "X5" shield, otherwise unexplained, in the treasure of the original Temple of the Frog (First Floor, Room 4, p37) and a cryptic comment in the FFC that "...the player received a "Saving Throw" against any hit he received." (1977:2).  Both are rather thin sauce, as the first might be a typo and the second doesn't seem to have any dependence on possessing a shield, but who knows.

Perhaps the only way it could make sense for the circles to represent shields and the squares to represent armor is if the numbers have nothing to do with the Man to Man table, and are instead "ablative" armor, like that found in the original Temple of The Frog and Craig Grasteck's "Rules to the game of Dungeon".  This type of armor will absorb a number of hits until it fails.

Honestly though, there's very little evidence for this type of armor in early balckmoor.  Further the numbers don't really fit well.  If the circles represent shields, then shields are significantly better than body armor according to the numbers.  They also don't come anywhere close to the number of hits the one known example found in the 1975 TotF.  That suit of armor could take 65! hits.  True it was space alien technology, but it is still a tremendous gap between the 2's and 3's we see in the circle and square numbers  and 65.


My last, best guess is that the circle numbers could represent an attack bonus, possibly also applicable to saving throws and such.  If you'll remember a good while back when I discussed Pete Gaylord's character sheet, there was an unexplained "+5" written next to his best weapon, the pole axe.  At that time I pointed to the "Blackmoor Military Manpower Distribution" list (FFC 1977:17), where following each Player Character, their Hit Dice are listed, and many of them include a bonus ranging from 1-5, though only Svenny has +5 and the rest are +1 or 2.  Maybe the circle numbers are this sort of bonus.

Okay, that was a lot of verbiage, so I'll summarize:

Squares: These numbers represent armor class corresponding to the Man to man table in CHAINMAIL.  They range either 0-4 or 0-7.

Circles:  These numbers could be:

* A shield saving throw rating possibly in cojunction with a 0-4 AC range
* A bonus applied to attacks, most likely to  damage rolls
* Something completely different  


l'm afraid I have to leave it at that until more information becomes available, but feel free to speculate in the comments.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Drive-Thru News

Quick Update

After several attempts that came back with unsatisfactory covers, I received a proof copy today of The Book of Elder Magic in softcover that came out great.

To date then, the following are available on RPGNOW and Drive Thru RPG Southerwood Publishing

* Champions of ZED (Hardcover, PDF)

* Book of Elder Magic (Hardcover, Softcover, PDF)

* Mines of Wexham (PDF)

There's also PDF freebies including the reference sheets

More to come..... 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Proper Dungeon Article

Hey all,

So I've been so engrossed (gaming time wise) with the study of Dave Megarry's character sheet that I failed to notice until yesterday that the latest issue of & Magazine has been released.

I mention that here because within the pages of that sterling issue is an article I wrote titled "Setting up a Proper Dungeon."  This is a substantially updated version of the article I gave out to Champions of ZED backers several years ago.

Here's the link to a free download & Mag

If you are not familiar, & Magazine is a terrific source of old school gaming goodness.  Check it out.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Megarry's Blackmoor Characters II


Megarry Matrix
Gaylord Matrix
AiF equivalents



Brains
Brains
Intelligence
Looks
Looks
Charisma

Credibility

Sex
Sex

Health
Health
Health
Strength
Strength
Strength
Courage
Courage


Cunning




Riding/Horsemanship
Horesmanship
Horsemanship
Woodcraft
Woodsmanship
Forester/Hunter
Leadership
Leadership

Flying
Flying

Sailing
Seamanship
Sailor
Throwing


Loyalty


Miscellaneous





Weapons


Dagger
Dagger
Dagger
Hand Axe
Hand Axe
Axe
Mace
Mace

Sword
Sword
Sword
Battle Axe
Battle Axe
Two Handed Axe
Morning Star
Morning Star

Flail
Flail
Flail
Spear
Spear
Spear
Longbow
Longbow
Longbow
Composite Bow
Composite Bow
Composite Bow
Bow

Bow
Pole Arms
Pole Arms

Halbard
Halbear

Two handed Sword
Two handed Sword
Two handed Sword
Mounted Lance
Mounted Lance
Lance
Pike
Pike
Pike
Arquebus
Arquebus


Stone

Crossbow
Crossbow
Crossbow
Heavy Crossbow


Light Catapult
Light Catapult

Heavy Catapult
Heavy Catapult

Bombard
Bombard

Note: Bolded/italicized weapons are those of the more limited list on Megarry's second sheet. The order of items generally follows Gaylord's with some rearrangement for convenient comparison.


Previously, I've discussed Pete Gaylord's  character sheet in a short series of posts (please see  Character-Sheet-Clues  Character-Sheet-Clues-part-II  and  Character-Sheet-Clues-III ).

Now that Megarry's character sheets have been made available, we have a basis for comparison.  

One of our first concerns is relative dating.  It appears that Gaylords sheet may well be slightly older than Megarry's.  Although, as showh in the above table,  they are very nearly identical in the listed characteristics.  

Gaylord's character was a wizard and contains information on level and magic not on Megarry's sheet, so we will set that information aside for now.  Of greater significance may be the circle and square numbers mentioned in point three in yesterday's post.  Gaylord's sheet lacks these circle and square numbers, therefore seemingly placing the sheet at a time prior to Megarry's Hecebeiner chracters.  Admittedly, the circle and square numbers may have been irrelevant to a wizard, and so must be viewed with caution as a dating tool.  However,  Gaylord's sheet also lacks a Miscellaneous category, which we know was added to Megarry's.  It is therefore almost certain that at the least, Gaylod's sheet dates prior to the creation of the David "Diamonds" Balfour character.  Further, note that Gaylord lacks Loyalty, but has "Credability".  Loyalty is a trait we see mentioned in the FFC and is well known even in D&D.  I suggest that it is more likely for Credibility to have been dropped and Loyalty to have been added than the reverse.  It is likely also significant that on Megarry's sheet, Halbard is spelled correctly, "stone" is missing, and a new weapon "bow" appears.   The correctly spelled "halbard" in particular may indicate that Megarry's character sheet follows the publication of the second edition of CHAINMAIL in July of 1972, because the spelling in Gaylords sheet, "Halbear" copies a misspelling found in the first printing of CHAINMAIL.  Of course, it is also quite possible that Mr. Megarry simply corrected the spelling himself.

Notice on the above table I've included an AiF column.  Primarily, this was done as merely a useful reference and example of the extent to which AiF does, and does not, conform to the original Blackmoor game. 

There are 14 "non-weapon" skills on Megarry's sheet compared to 13 on Gaylords.  Eleven of these are shared in common.  The odd traits out are Credibility and Cunning on Gaylords sheet, and Throwing, Loyalty and Miscellaneous on Megarry's sheet. 
What remains is a core of  11 common "ability" or "non-weapon" traits, utilized reportedly and apparently as 2d6 roll under saving throws.

Likewise there is a great commonality in the weapon types.  That's hardly surprising since they are taken directly from the lists in CHAINMAIL.  However, Megarry's second page evidences an interesting change in the weapons list.  These are indicated in the table above by being bolded and italicized. Dave Megarry explains: "When we get to the shorter page 2, the number of items to roll has lessened as we determined we weren't using the mounted lance in the dungeon! And we would figure out what our ability was for a particular weapon if we bought or acquired it." Personal Communication, 2016

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Megarry Early Blackmoor Character Matrix






The illustration shown here is of two Blackmoor character sheets dating to circa 1971* belonging to David Megarry.  These are his sheets from his play in Blackmoor.  As such, they are a key witness to the early development of fantasy role playing games, and contain some of the very first "player characters" ever created.

" I was not there at the May 1971 event, I joined later. Most likely because I was not in the current Napoleonic battle. I only went to Arneson's basement when I was part of a battle. This changed when the fantasy was added: then we started showing up on a regular basis.  McDuck was the first explorer I kept track of...there might have been a first day character that I clumsily rolled with the help of Duane Jenkins, I think, but that one died on the first expedition. I then made up my sheet to organize my characters. McDuck also died on his first encounter, so I made up a #1 (think Picard..;) thinking that he would also die. But low and behold he lasted for a month or so (maybe longer, I am checking that...) and so I have come to consider #1 to be McDuck."  David Megarry, personal communication 2016

One of the most remarkable aspects of these sheets was not immediately apparent to me.   There are some 20 characters represented, but these characters were not, as one might suppose, rolled up for some purpose for a single game or even a short series of games.,

"...it is a moving history. The first column, McDuck, was the only entry when I started this sheet. As characters died, I would create a new one. These sheets represent 2+ years of gaming." David Megarry, personal communication 2016

Two plus years of gaming!  What is immediately surprising about that, is that we have a fairly entrenched concept of Arneson's gaming rules as being very fluid and evolving, yet these sheets evidence a much more stable situation within Blackmoor game mechanics than we had supposed.  Arneson's rules were fluid and evolving, certainly, but that variability now appears to have been a case of fluctuating rules at the margins built around a more stable, character centered core.

Nevertheless, such changes as we do find evidenced in the sheets are terrific clues to the growth of the game.  I'll start with four important observations.

" The availability of writing utensils determines the colors: green and red markers were used on those days that I grabbed them to write down the character and numbers." David Megarry, personal communication 2016

First, when the character David "Diamonds" Balfour was created, a miscellaneous category was added to the character traits list. - written with green felt pen.  Dave Megarry says " The misc. line was added...  I think Arneson wanted to streamline non-typical situations."

Second, when the Hercebeiner family was created, a new stat was added to all the characters.  This stat was written with a red felt tip pen near to the character name.

Third, prior to, or simultaneous with the creation of the first character on the second sheet (The Earl's Scholaress nee Scholar) another new stat was created and again placed near the character name.  To distinguish this stat from the previous new stat, a square was drawn around it, and a circle was draw around the previous stat.  Note that the very last character created - Adventurer George has neither of these stats.

Fourth, while The Earl's Scholaress nee Scholar character was in play, a bonus system was instituted allowing two traits per character to be raised by 1d6 points.  The new total was marked with an asterisk.


I'll be going through these character sheets in a series of detailed posts, so I'll leave it there for now.  Next post, we will talk about dating and content in comparison with Pete Gaylords character sheet.

*There appears "7/21" or "7/71" in the top left corner which might be a date, which might have been written in 1971 or 1972 (or not).  The first Blackmoor game is supposed to have taken place in April of 1971.  Arneson subsequently went on a long trip to Scandinavia, but returned in July.  A date of 7/21/71 would be entirely consistent with the known chronology.  On the other hand, a date of 1972 would be consistent with the release of the second printing of CHAINMAIL, as mentioned above.  There is a faint hint of some additional writing after 7/21 that might be a 2, though it doesn't appear to be very consistent in shape with the other numbers of similar size on the page.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Blackmoor Documentary Announcement

Have you heard?

Just in case your head has been in the sand, I thought I'd join the heralds and help make sure everyone is aware of a documentary - the documentary - in production which critically and thoroughly examines the genesis of fantasy role playing games in the Twin Cities.

I'm not directly involved in the production, but I regularly consult with the producer, and I can state unreservedly, that the project is in excellent hands.  The perspective being taken is anthropological, scientific, artistic and documentarian in the tradition of the greatest and best documentaries.

Have a look: